November 19, 2014

Paul Scharre and Michael Horowitz on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

By Michael Horowitz and Paul Scharre

hen the robots start thinking for themselves in the movies or on TV, it’s never a good sign for the humans. Whether the setting is Earth or Caprica, letting robots think and giving them weapons is a precursor to human destruction. Fearing such a result, a coalition of NGOs is advocating that the international community ban lethal autonomous weapons systems, which these groups call “killer robots.” It’s a striking phrase, but what exactly is a killer robot? Homing munitions, like torpedoes, incorporate some autonomy and have been in existence since World War II. Today, nearly every modern military uses them. Are they “killer robots”?

As technology advances, it’s important that we recognize the difference between “killer robots” and merely “smart weapons.” It’s a line that some activists have blurred—pushing to ban not just the sci-fi robot warriors of the future, but also the precision-guided munitions that have dramatically reduced civilian casualties in wars over the past 6 decades. Such a move would be a mistake. Precision-guided munitions lie at the heart of efforts to make the use of force safer for civilians and more effective at quickly achieving its objectives.

Read the full article at Politico.

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